Health and wellbeing solutions are being made more accessible than ever before through the AI-led innovation of Solutions 4 Health, which is using technology to transform the delivery of public health services. Health Tech World meets its head of AI and innovations, Keshav Sankla
As a long-standing provider of public health and wellbeing programmes in communities across England, Solutions 4 Health is now helping to shape the next generation of healthcare through its pioneering use of AI.
Building on its track record of delivering over 20 services in 20 local authority regions – from weight management and smoking cessation through to support with sexual health and domestic violence, and more recently the COVID-19 vaccination – Solutions 4 Health is engaging significantly more than the 100,000 people it reaches in person each year through its sector-leading use of technology.
Through the creation of its wellbeing suite of digital health apps, the Berkshire-based business has devised the means to use innovative and evidence-based AI to provide wellbeing at scale, being judged against measurable outcomes.
Its first app, Quit with Bella, which launched in 2017, has helped more than 10,000 people to give up smoking so far. A real world evaluation of people taking part in Dudley, in the West Midlands, revealing its digital intervention for four-week quit rates were equal to those of the gold standard in face-to-face support.
Continuing Solutions 4 Health’s commitment to tackling health inequality, the Quit with Bella app has been able to engage a wider and more diverse group of people than those who would attend in-person sessions.
The huge success of Quit with Bella, underpinned by an ability to push the boundaries of AI which even caught the attention of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, has now given rise to six other apps, aimed at both children and adults, which support health, wellbeing, positive lifestyle choices and emotional strength.
“The AI work that we were using back then, and even now to some extent, is something that has never been done before,” says Keshav Sankla, director of AI and innovations at Solutions 4 Health and an esteemed name in AI, who has spearheaded the development of the app suite.
“AI is usually quite transactional, the AI robots can deal with a narrow range of issues like ‘What time does the shop close’, rather than attempting to engage in a deep and serious conversation with the user.
“With Quit with Bella, there was a lot of advice at the time that maybe we shouldn’t give the user an open text box, maybe we should give them some pre-defined options, but we know that’s now how people would give up smoking.
“We have been able to tackle inequalities through talking to a lot of people with social anxiety and those with mental health issues – statistics show 35 per cent of people with mental health problems smoke, against the average of 17 per cent – but it’s not always a realistic option for these people to be going out into the community. I also remember one pregnant woman who feared the judgement of going to see someone in-person to help her give up smoking.
“We did a lot of technical and logical work to get Bella to be able to talk but that has enabled us to reach out to people in an effective and also cost-effective way.”
And from the levels of engagement for Quit with Bella, the same principles of apps being compelling and entertaining – while having a focused health purpose and delivering results on those – the next phase of apps have been developed.
Ask Teddi is a robot for parents or carers of children from birth to five-years-old, which delivers support on a host of wellbeing challenges, from breast and bottle feeding to vaccinations, as well as providing mental health support to new parents in their ability to cope with parenthood.
Launched in January this year, anecdotal evidence attesting its positive impact is already aplenty, with a study to gather statistics underway by Swansea and Essex Universities.
The next five apps – Camp Island, which promotes wellbeing for five to 10-year-olds; Beam, to encourage 11 to 17-year olds to make positive lifestyle choices; ShapeUp4Life to promote healthy choices; MySelfCare, which revolves around short story content; and Happi, an AI-powered wellbeing guide – are all set to deliver similar impact, particularly post-pandemic when the use of smartphones to deliver health and wellbeing interventions became commonplace.
“It’s so important to meet people where they are, and these days that is on their phone,” says Keshav.
“There used to be a time when people went on their phone for a break from life, but now I think people go out for a break from their phone.
“The past 18 months in particular has changed how we live and what people expect from technology. It’s no longer just for entertainment or communication, it now has a definite role in health and wellbeing.
“Computers are still younger than the human lifetime, so we’ve seen a huge amount of progress in terms of development and attitudes to technology. But the issue we face is that there are so many alternatives to what people can use on their phones, TikTok and so many others, that we need to make sure that as well as the impact our apps are delivering, that they are also accessible and enjoyable. We want people to be able to engage very easily and enjoy their time doing so.”
The apps, while developed by Keshav and his team of designers and engineers, have been created in consultation with stakeholders from across the whole field of healthcare, from health professionals to users, to ensure they are entirely evidence-based and answer the exact needs of each wellbeing area.
“We want to help more people so will continue to develop what we do so we can transform and improve services across the country in a sustainable way and at scale. We want to continue to make services more accessible and effective, and working collaboratively with everyone involved in this – from the mental health professionals to the school nurses and users – is very important,” says Keshav.
Solutions 4 Health was supported further in its work in AI through its selection for the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme for 2020-21. The chosen 20 companies all offer digital solutions or services that have the highest potential to meet London’s NHS and social care challenges.
“We were able to work with some impactful companies, Accelerator partners and navigators, they have been absolutely brilliant in helping us to navigate a range of issues around our ambitions to scale in London.”